Who's in the Pitch? Don't Ask

Why Not Knowing Your Competition Can Be a Winning Strategy for Small Agencies

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We just defeated one of the most famous agencies in the world. Us. A small independent on the rise was selected to be agency of record over a legendary shop with more Lions than a wildlife sanctuary.

But we didn't know they were in the pitch until we were awarded the account -- which taught us a valuable lesson.

Here's why not knowing whom you're pitching against can be incredibly liberating for small agencies like ours.

Be careful what you wish for

Dunn&Co. wins a lot of new business. Capabilities presentations. Referrals. Full-blown pitches. The process by which we acquire clients rarely matters. Our winning percentage is rock solid. But, as an agency, we had yet to participate in a pitch against the industry elite -- the kind of pitch many small shops would like to be invited to -- until now.

The champagne corks barely hit the floor before we came to a sobering realization: We might have lost had we known the name of our opponent, because we might have worried more about how to beat them than how to do the work that actually helped us win.

More hands on deck

We had four internal creative teams working on the pitch and tapped our production department to create spec videos and other digital content. So, in total, about a dozen creatives were involved, including two creative directors with resumes that read like a who's who of famous agencies and brands. Yet, even with all that firepower, we wondered aloud if we would have felt the pressure to hire freelance teams to contribute additional ideas, needlessly sinking even more money into the pitch.

Kiss the kids goodnight for me

Like most pitches, much of the work was created after the day's billable tasks were completed. So there were plenty of wee hours and group meals. "You mind if I eat the last slice?" "We had subs yesterday. How about Greek?" We didn't exactly stretch ourselves to the point of exhaustion -- in the end, it was one of the best presentations we've ever put together without having to -- but we thought about how many all-nighters and weekends we would have pulled to slay the giant.

Emotional quicksand

There was never a moment during the creative process when we felt unsure about what we were doing. We never questioned the strategy or ideas or copy or art. We believed we had the goods every time we approached the pin-up board to view the latest round of work. "It's our account to lose," we thought.

It might have been a different story if we had known whom we were pitching against. Self-doubt could have clouded our decision-making. The insecurity every creative carries with them could have dragged us down. We could have scrutinized everything to death, over-thinking every little detail. We could have crumbled under the weight of our own angst. "This layout sucks! It's not even close to their level!" "I'm sure they already thought of that idea. Try again." "Face it, we can't out-funny them." But it never happened because we trusted our talent and experience and approached the pitch as if we were the only agency in it.

Of course, it's all entirely hypothetical. We may have put together the same presentation and had the same outcome even if we knew. We may not have blinked when gazing up at an industry behemoth. We're a quality shop with a stellar new business record, and that belief could have been enough to see us through.

But, we small agencies know better. And now we know it may just be better to not know at all.

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